Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he would not block Republicans from bringing up a House-passed bill that is part of President Barack Obama’s jobs agenda, but the Nevada Democrat said he wants the legislation amended.
In remarks to reporters today, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also expressed hope that the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction would reach a deal by their deadline of Nov. 23, but the leaders declined to comment in depth on the super committee’s ongoing effort to avoid the automatic spending cuts that would result if it fails.
Meanwhile, the House-passed bill to repeal a law that requires the government to withhold 3 percent of contract payments might yet clear the Senate, depending on the changes demanded by Democrats.
“The bill that comes from the House, I think we should amend it,” Reid said. “I’ve spoken to the Republican leader; he wants to bring that forward. I’m not going to stand in the way of his bringing it forward.” Eliminating the withholding provision was a small portion of Obama’s $447 billion job creation proposal, and supporters believe it will help spur growth by making sure small businesses that contract with the government have more money with which to work. Senate Republicans sought to bring up a similar bill on the withholding issue several weeks ago, but it failed on a party-line vote over disagreements on how to pay for it. House Republicans, however, used an offset proposed by Obama in his deficit reduction package.
Besides forcing Senate action on the House measure, McConnell and the GOP leadership team picked up on a messaging campaign launched by House Republicans last week and demanded that Reid allow the Senate to consider the “forgotten 15.” The collection of bills was approved earlier this year by House Republicans. GOP leaders say all 15 measures would help to jump-start job creation, but they blame Senate Democrats for refusing to act on them.
Senate Republicans argue that these 15 bills have bipartisan support, as opposed to the jobs-related legislation that Reid has been bringing to the floor since the conclusion of the August recess. Senate Democrats counter that they, too, have brought up bipartisan measures only to have Republicans oppose their bills. Republicans have objected to Democratic efforts to pay for some of the measures with tax increases on individuals earning more than $1 million annually.
“The House passed 15 bills, sent them over to the Senate, almost all of which have broad bipartisan support. We’re looking for ways to cooperate with the administration in passing legislation we think will help us deal with this economic crisis in which we are mired,” McConnell said. “The other side’s approach seems to be to craft measures they know can’t pass, most of which have had bipartisan opposition, and then complain about not being able to pass legislation.”
Reid countered that the Republicans are protecting “millionaires and billionaires” at the expense of creating jobs for the middle class. Senate Democrats are poised to introduce an infrastructure bill that would include a tax increase on individuals earning more than $1 million. Republicans argue such a levy would hamper job creation and economic growth.
“I’m terribly disappointed that the Republican caucus has ignored the wishes of the American people,” Reid said.
Reid also said that during today’s caucus lunch he informed Senate Democrats of the negative repercussions that would occur if the super committee falls short of expectations, and he told reporters that failure would be disastrous. But he seemed to try to shift the burden for the panel’s success to the Republicans.
“I read to my caucus today what happens in sequestration with domestic discretionary spending. I mean, the cuts — 800,000 kids and their families would be taken off Head Start — sequestration, 800,000 children and families, no Head Start. And a long list of other very brutal cuts,” Reid said. “But my friend, [Speaker] John Boehner wants this grand bargain without any sacrifice to their people that have most of the money in this country. ... So I would hope we can get something done there, but, you know, if they can’t get it done, they can’t it done. You have to have two. It takes two to tango.”
McConnell said he would not have supported the legislation creating the super committee if he thought it could not succeed.
“Well, this joint select committee was set up to succeed. I assure you, I wouldn’t have lightly been a part of crafting a process that reduced the number for success in the Senate to 51 and eliminated the possibility of amendments if I was not interested in getting an outcome,” he said. “My view is, on really difficult challenges, divided government is actually the best time to do it, not the toughest time, but the best time to do it. ... My view is, why not now?”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.